Fouad Mebazaa was sworn in as Tunisia’s acting leader today after the country’s longtime authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and his family took refuge in Saudi Arabia, the result of angry street protests against the government. It marks the second time power in Tunisia has changed hands over the past 24 hours: The prime minister had announced just a day before that he was taking power from Ali, but he abruptly gave it up this morning. Complying with the rules of succession, the prime minister turned over authority to Mebazza, speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, who is expected to hold elections to form a new government within 60 days. Acting president Mebazaa said:
Meanwhile, gunshots are still being heard in the Tunisian capital. Nearly 50 people have been reported dead as a result of rioting at two Tunisian prisons. Soldiers, police officers, and young men with guns are trying to keep the streets of downtown Tunis under lockdown. According to the Times, “Clouds of smoke from the burning and looting of a major supermarket hung over the bleached city skyline. Residents huddled in their homes for fear of the police.” The protests began following the self-immolation last month of a college-educated street vendor in the remote town of Sidi Bouzid who was frustrated by the lack of job prospects and grew from grassroots through social networks like Facebook and Twitter.